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By ANGELA MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000
TAMPA -- Linda Baker wants one thing clear: The Humane Society of Tampa Bay does not support the use of animals in circuses in any way, shape or form.
But for days now, Baker, the Humane Society's executive director, has been fielding calls from angry animal lovers who have seen discount coupons at veterinary offices for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in January.
The coupon includes this statement: "A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Humane Society of Greater Tampa Bay."
It sounds like the 88-year-old agency Baker runs, but it's not. One word -- Greater -- distinguishes the two.
"It is a look-alike organization," Baker said. "And there's not anything we can do legally about anybody using a name that is similar to ours."
The new group is the brainchild of Dr. Richard Kane, a Brandon veterinarian who runs Care Animal Clinic. He says he has big plans for the fledgling group but does not have a board of directors yet. The circus is the first fundraising effort, he said.
Kane started the group after the Humane Society of Tampa Bay decided to build a low-cost spay and neuter clinic. It's not that the new center will cut into his business, Kane said. He doesn't make money on such procedures, he said. But he thinks pet owners would be better served if the program were run through neighborhood veterinarians who are more conveniently located and can care for the animals after their surgery.
He acknowledges the similarity of names leaves room for confusion but insists that's not his intent. He had hoped to name the group the Humane Society of Hillsborough County, but that name was taken by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
Animal rights activists say they spent Thursday and Friday calling veterinarians and asking them not to distribute the circus coupons.
Melissa Waz, a member of Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow, or ADAPTT, worries that the new Humane Society will hurt the older organization. "They work almost completely off donations," she said of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
Kane has high hopes for his new group. He wants to start an education program in the schools to teach children how to take care of pets as well as provide financial assistance for pet owners, provide pets to disaster victims who lost a pet and raise money for the veterinary school at the University of South Florida, among other things.
None of those programs exists yet because Kane's group doesn't have any money. That's where the donations from the circus tickets come in. He hopes to raise about $1,000 from the coupons.
Animal rights activists oppose circuses because of the way animals are treated and caged. But Kane said he is impressed with the care Ringling animals receive. He also thinks a circus is "such a great experience" because children are exposed to exotic animals they would never see otherwise.
"We're watching them, and they need to keep doing what they promised to do," he said of Ringling. "You can go out there and protest or you can get involved and watch them."
Animal rights activists complain that Kane's group provides Ringling Bros. with cheap advertising and good public relations. Waz said the coupon is a ploy to mislead people, including some veterinarians, into thinking the more established Humane Society supports circuses.
"People that would not normally support circuses see the Humane Society's endorsement on it and think it's okay," Waz said.
Baker also is upset that Kane's group endorses the circus.
"People have been calling us saying they're going to discontinue their support of the Humane Society because of this," Baker said. "I can only try to reassure them it's not us.
"I find it hard to believe that any group that would call themselves a humane society could support the circus."